A group of Spanish municipal officials who came to Israel to publicize their revival of Spain's Jewish history may leave with new insight regarding the country, which they had previously known only from afar.
"Things look different at a distance. They've already started to change stereotypes that they used to have in the past," said Assumpcio Hosta, the secretary general of Red de Juderias, the organization which is restoring the Jewish quarters of 21 Spanish cities that were home to vibrant Jewish communities prior to the Inquisition
"Now they understand. They realize that nothing is white-white or black-black," said Hosta.
The group of 10 mayors and other municipal representatives left Israel Monday after five days of touring Israeli cities and meeting with municipal officials. They also visited Yad Vashem and the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora.
At the presentation of a book highlighting the Jewish quarters of Spain Sunday night, Red de Juderias delegates and others expressed hope that the organization would not only raise awareness of a forgotten period in Spanish history, but prompt new understanding between Spain and Israel.
The countries have not always had the smoothest relations. Spain only established a diplomatic relationship with Israel 20 years ago, and a Spanish judge is currently attempting to try seven Israeli leaders, including former army chiefs of staff Dan Halutz and Moshe Ya'alon and former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, for war crimes.
However, Spanish ambassador to Israel Alvaro Iranzo told The Jerusalem Post Sunday night that the tensions did not extend to the Spanish public, and that the two countries were on the cusp of building a strong relationship.
They had been isolated from each other for a long time, said Iranzo, and had to "make up for that void" through increased interaction.
"Knowing each other better will dissipate any misunderstandings which are due to the lack of knowledge," he said. "This is a genuine and unique opportunity for citizens and institutions. This is the only way to understand each other better, and the complexities of the Middle East."
Israel above all wanted peace with its neighbors, but it needed a guarantee of security for there to be peace, Iranzo said. When conflict erupts in the Middle East, complexities like those may not be understood from far away.
One of the benefits of their visit was the opportunity to see both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by visiting several Israeli cities as well as Bethlehem, said Barcelona Mayor Katy Carreras-Moysi. Barcelona has a twin city relationship with both Tel Aviv and Gaza City.
"In this country you have to hear both parts," she said. "There are two realities in Israel."
It was gratifying to see the organization's efforts in Spain appreciated and celebrated by Israelis, she added.
"They recognize what we do. It motivates us to continue."
According to Iranzo, the ultimate goal is to go beyond achieving a better political relationship between Spain and Israel. Interaction between the two peoples needed to be increased, and the number of tourists traveling between the two countries was already on the rise, a small but important step in strengthening the partnership between the countries, Iranzo added.
"We have quite a long way [to go], but this is a very, very exciting task," he said. "Unlike other countries, we share a past, present and future."